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Women, Reviews, and Self-Publishing

I thought of writing a long post on the conversation about the visibility of women writers in SFF, but decided it all boils down to this: I am sick unto death of seeing articles and opinion pieces about the need to acknowledge women writers, from publications and groups that refuse to review and include and support women who self-publish.

The most common reason given for rejecting self-published works from reviews, sight unseen, is that there are just too many of them to review. By the same token, there are far too many traditionally published novels to review as well, so there is that. I get it. Making decisions takes time, and it can be difficult to choose which reviews will best please the readership. Thus it’s easier to set aside a single publication method as not-reviewable.

That reasoning suffers from two downsides. First, the policy cuts out the work of many women whose writing didn’t gain approval from a relatively small audience of editors, but instead found a great audience among readers. It cuts out women who decided they didn’t want to seek such traditional approval, and chose instead to control and direct their own work. It turns away from women who have found success outside the system that the diversity-in-the-genre articles are ostensibly trying to impact.

Self-publishing is empowerment; cutting its existence from the landscape of writers’ options, while pushing for greater visibility of women writers, is rather counterproductive if inclusion is the actual goal.

Second, the policy ensures the publication will be missing out on the broadening conversation readers are having with a number of self-published writers. It won’t affect those readers much, since they’re obviously getting their information from a variety of sources. But there are readers who are entrenched in traditional publications and reviews, and will not venture far from the familiar. Those readers will be missing out on the greater conversation as well.

Again, making decisions takes time and can be difficult.

I knew when I self-published the sort of attitudes I’d be facing from traditionally-oriented reviewers, publications, bloggers, and even other writers. To act surprised that I’ve found the environment to be pretty close to what I expected would be disingenuous. I’m simply pointing out a contradiction that troubles me.

The review policies on self-published works will eventually change, likely when it becomes apparent that readers are having conversations the publications aren’t. And when it does change, we’ll be starting the conversation on the visibility of women all over again.

Until then, though, I’ll just keep watching the policies that state a support for women writers, as long as they’re not self-published women, because those self-published women should stay in their own playground.

Well. I guess that became a blog post after all.

While you’re here, tell me who your favorite self-published women writers are!

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
mrissa
Apr. 6th, 2014 09:21 pm (UTC)
So here is my policy, as an unaffiliated reviewer:

If someone sends me a book for free, they get my attention for at least the beginning of the book. If I read the whole thing, they get a separate blog post apart from my usual fortnightly book post. That's true for the big publishers, it's true for the micropresses, it's true for self-published. Doesn't matter who you are. If you can keep my attention for the whole book, you get a review. If you can't, you don't. I give a lot of free books from A Very Large Publisher unread to friends, relatives, and my local library for their book sale, because they just don't hold my attention.

(A Very Large Publisher has a request checklist for the people who review for them regularly, but they also send out things I didn't request. Some of these work for me. Some really, really do not.)

I don't get review copies from self-published authors at the moment. If they start sending them, I'll start trying them on exactly the same terms as the big and small press stuff I already review. I'm not Publishers Weekly, but I never claimed to be.

The thing that I won't do, that I don't expect the big reviewers to do either, is that I won't go out and trawl for self-published books to review on special terms that I don't give the big publishers. If I have to go out and find a self-published book for myself, it goes in my big fortnightly book post along with everything else I bought for myself or got as a gift or purchased from the library. I understand that self-publishing authors don't always have the budget (of money or of time and energy) to send out lots of free review copies to bloggers, or don't want to spare the budget. That's fine, but they don't get reviews that way. It's a choice they make.

If I got a lot more swamped with review books than I am now, to the point where it was interfering with my research reading for my own work or something like that, I might have to institute other rules, but I'm not sure what they'd be. At the moment, there's roughly a first-in-first-out queue that can be trumped by OOH SHINY if something looks really great, small press or large. But at the moment, the number of review books I read is dwarfed by the number of books I read total.
blairmacg
Apr. 6th, 2014 11:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for taking the time to share that here. It's very much appreciated.

Your policy is completely fair, understandable, and quite open. That, too, is appreciated. I don't at all expect a reviewer to go out of her way to hunt down books to review.

I'm sure very few self-published send out review copies. Part of that is due to the ease of ebook formatting versus hard copy formatting. Part of it is due to the fact most venues that WILL review self-published works want the ebook rather than the hard copy. As more review venues open to self-publishing -- and want hard copy rather than ebook -- there will be greater motivation for self-publishers to put out more hard copy.

(Forex, I'm not planning to put out a hard copy of Chant until I have Sand, and possibly Stone, ready as well.)

Another factor could be that many successful self-publishers (and I'm including in that definition folks who make what a debut midlister might) aren't at all connected to the long-standing SFF community with any depth. They might know one or two major review venues. They might have attended a convention, but have no idea how to be part of one. (One very successful self-published writer thought it had to be by invitation only.) I suspect all of that will take a few years to shake out.

mrissa
Apr. 6th, 2014 11:57 pm (UTC)
I should clarify that I do not require hard copy. But I do require it should be sent to me, so: my inbox or checking with me for how to send it to my ebook reader, or even the author approaching me personally to say "this is free, here is where to download it, here is the publicity material and why I think you might enjoy reading it, please consider a review," rather than me wandering around and finding that something happens to be free.
blairmacg
Apr. 8th, 2014 12:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
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